November 29, 2005.
The News Journal - Wilmington, DE, USA.
When Stan Smith, of Wilmington, was 8 years old, he lost what little sight he was born with. As he grew up, he found few recreational opportunities for blind people.
But in his early 20s, Smith learned of a new bowling league for blind people in Wilmington. He signed up, not knowing what he was getting into.
It turned out to be a lifelong activity. From that start in 1961, the league is still around, as is Smith.
Smith, now 66, is treasurer of the Blind Bowlers Association of Delaware, whose 24 participants bowl every Tuesday night at AMF Price Lanes in Wilmington from Labor Day until late April.
The Blind Bowlers Association uses a guide rail set up on the edge of the lane opposite the bowler -- left side for a right-handed bowler, right side for a left-hander. The bowlers use that rail to position themselves on the lane. From there, it's regular bowling -- no bumpers in the gutters or any other concessions.
"The rail runs from the foul line back to the beginning of the approach," Smith said. "Some people keep their hand on the rail the whole time, others just use it to line themselves up.
"Bowling, if it's done right, is repetitive. It's just a matter of taking the same number of steps and getting your feet in the right place. Everything has to be coordinated. The railing is your guide to keep you straight on the approach."
The league has six teams of four players each. One player on each team is a sighted bowler, and the others are classified by whether they have some sight or are totally blind. The sighted bowlers help the blind bowlers by giving them pin counts, telling them which are left for a spare, giving feedback on what their ball is doing on the lane, and any other information the bowler might need.
The blind bowlers do reasonably well -- the highest average among those with some vision is in the 150 range, while the top total-blindness bowler averages 115.
"Some of us want a little more information than others," Smith said. "Some want to know how their ball's reacting,"
Mark Russ, 44, is president of the league and has total vision loss. He took up bowling six years ago, and had to learn the sport just like anybody else.
"It's all having to do with your alignment," Russ said. "My delivery and approach was pretty much natural. At one time I could see, so I could remember how to go about that. My lead foot is where I would put the ball down."
Russ said he did have some problems learning the sport that are unique to a blind person.
"It was difficult for me to get the perception of 60 feet," he said. "It [the ball] would go about halfway and then go off one side or another. After a while, I developed certain techniques that would have me place the ball down the middle of the lane."
Melissa Toomey, 29, is one of the sighted bowlers in the league. She became involved through the association's fund-raising work with the Wilmington Jaycees and was impressed by the ability of the bowlers.
"It just amazes me how they know exactly which pin it is," she said. "At first, I had no clue. I couldn't remember all the time which ones [were standing]. It's almost kind of ironic -- here I am, perfectly capable of seeing what's down there, and they're not and they know better than I do."
The league's roots go back to 1948, when a Wilmington team was formed to take part in a traveling bowling league for the blind in Pennsylvania that had teams in Philadelphia, Wilkes-Barre, Reading, Allentown and Chester. In 1961, the Wilmington team formed its own league.
Ed Stokes, 81, of Wilmington, has been involved since that 1948 inception, although he isn't bowling this year because of an arm injury. The league has survived because of an ongoing interest in bowling, but he said it has become difficult to maintain participation.
"A certain percentage of blind people love bowling, and this is the only opportunity we have to bowl," Stokes said. "We started out with six five-man teams back in 1961. Up until the last five years, we've had plenty of people who wanted to bowl.
"But the last four or five years, we haven't been able to get young people interested."
End of article.
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